AYRSHIRE BULLS have bounced back from a patchy start of the season to record two thumping home wins in their two most recent matches – 41-7 against Heriot’s at the end of August and 48-17 against Stirling County last weekend – which has laid down a marker of their serious Super6 title aspirations.
However, openside flanker Yaree Fantini – who has been one of the team’s outstanding performers so far in this campaign – insists that the hard work has only just begun, and has promised that the team will not under-estimate the challenge they face at Goldenacre this Sunday, when they face a rematch against a Heriot’s side who will be desperate to make amends for that Millbrae capitulation last month.
As well as having a point to prove, Heriot’s will also draw confidence from their excellent comeback victory at Myreside last Friday night, which knocked Watsonians off top-spot in the league.
“They’re a tough team – they’ve done the double on Watsonians so we’re not taking it lightly – and we’re at their place as well so that will be a different challenge,” says Fantini, acknowledging the fact that the Bulls have not been as imposing on the road as they have been at Millbrae in recent weeks.
“We knew it was a matter of time before the stuff we had been doing in pre-season started coming through in our games,” he adds. “And now that we’ve started to click, we just need to make sure that we don’t get complacent.
“We need to keep building on it each week. We’re not getting everything right, which is a positive because we’re getting results and know that there is still more that we can give.”
Fantini arrived in Scotland during the early days of lockdown and had hoped to play in the ‘sprint’ tournament which was planned last October to December before Covid once again intervened.
Having waited so long to get going, the 23-year-old has wasted no time in making his mark for the Bulls, with his power and fast feet as a ball-carrier, and his competitiveness over the tackle, providing evidence of why he was a contracted member of the England Sevens squad in 2017-18.
“I started out playing for a club called Lutterworth in Leicestershire,” he explains. “My step-dad got me into it. His brother played for the British and Irish Lions – Harry Ellis – so they’ve always been a rugby family, and it just developed from there.
“In my first year at Northumbria University [studying psychology], I was signed to the England sevens squad, so I was back and forward between Twickenham and Newcastle for training, which was a challenge in itself with all the travel.
“After that, I played BUCS Super Rugby, did some pre-season stuff with Newcastle Falcons, and during that first season of Super6 I was still at Northumbria doing my Masters in Business Management but was aware of what was going on up here because I had played alongside a few guys who were involved in the league, such as George Bordill at the Bulls, Tom Galbraith at Southern Knights and Lewis Berg at Watsonians.
“Then Covid hit, and the Bulls reached out, so I came up for the start of the ‘sprint’ tournament they had planned, and when that didn’t happen I just stayed on.
“It’s been quite pleasant. The weather is turning now but it feels like it has been sunny for the year or so that I have been here,” he insists.
“I work from home a couple of days a week doing customer support, so that’s kept me ticking over, but, to be honest, it has been mostly about going out with the boys for coffee – getting to know and bond with my team-mates. It has been really good.
“I’ve been living with Matt Minogue from Australia, and Tom Everard from Hartpury, so it has been really good getting to know them, and then meeting the rest of the guys, initially on group chats, and then in person when we were able to start training. It is a really good culture – all the boys are class – which makes it easier.
“I was playing university leagues before, so this is definitely a step up, and I’m just glad to be back into it again.”
Fantini is not currently Scottish qualified. “But in a couple more years I will be,” he points out.
“When the Bulls contacted me, they told me about the league and the fact that it is a new concept with a lot of eyes on it was one of the first things they brought up.
“I just want to climb the leagues and see how far I can go, and playing top-flight rugby is the goal. But, first and foremost, I just want to enjoy it after such a long lay-off. I’m not taking anything for granted.”